Christin Roby, Washington Times, October 13, 2015
Aaliyah Kouman brags about her daily skin care regimen, one the 29-year-old has followed since she was a teenager.
“Every night I use a bedtime oil called Body White,” she explained, proud of her pallid skin tone. “And in the mornings I mix cocoa butter with a whitening lotion.
“If the products ever begin to bother my skin, then I’ll stop,” she added. “If not, then I’ll continue to use them every day.”
Ms. Kouman isn’t alone. In fact, she’s part of a large and growing population of “tchatchos,” an untranslatable Ivory Coast term for people who bleach their skin using products with names like Fair and White, Glow and Nature White despite a ban on them passed by the Ivorian government earlier this year.
It’s a ban widely ignored despite what the government says are the good intentions behind it.
“This declaration to regulate cosmetics and personal care products is to protect Ivorians from depigmentation, one of the major causes of destruction of their health,” Minister of Health and the Fight Against AIDS Raymonde Goudou Coffie said in a statement.
Though no official numbers are available on the number of Ivorian “tchatchos,” skin-bleaching is prevalent throughout West Africa and around the world.
According to the World Health Organization, roughly 75 percent of Nigerian women, 27 percent of Senegalese women and 33 percent of South African women regularly use skin-lightening products. In India, over half of all cosmetic products sold there are skin-lightening products.
The creams don’t work on feet, knuckles and elbows, making it easy to spot tchatchos. The treatments also dry out the skin, giving some users a tough, leathery-like complexion and posing other health risks.
Expectant mothers who have used skin-bleaching often encounter trouble breastfeeding because of dried milk ducts, said Ms. Kouakou. Users sometimes also suffer from migraines, high blood pressure and skin cancer.
Wagnin Bloudine, 30, began skin-bleaching two years ago after she saw how her friends had lightened themselves. But she has since stopped.
“I noticed the products were marbling my skin, giving me two tones, lightening some areas while leaving others dark,” Ms. Bloudine said.
Fueling demand for the whitening locally is the widespread belief in the Ivory Coast that deep-dark skin is dirty.
Ms. Kouman said lightening her skin makes her feel pretty. “It makes my skin look vibrant and clean,” she said.
Many women like Ms. Kouman said they feel as if they receive special treatment when their skin is light compared to other women who remain naturally dark.
Rosine Ako, who owns a hair salon in Abidjan, blames men for the popularity of skin whitening. Competition among Ivorian women for partners is intense, she said.
“Women do this because it’s what men like,” Ms. Ako said. “Here in Ivory Coast, every woman wants to be seen as beautiful by men with the hopes of getting married.”
She added, “If you do not wear the straight hair, and have what men think to be beautiful skin, they will leave you to find what they are looking for elsewhere. I have had many brides-to-be come to me to find whiteners for them to lighten their skin before their wedding.”